Environmental Professor On Museum's Cheney Decision

On Moldy Chum, environmental ethics professor Sam Snyder — who is a long-standing member of the American Museum of Fly Fishing and is soon to be John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library — challenges the Museum’s well-publicized decision to invite Dick Cheney to their annual fundraising event this fall. “At the AMFF, in its galleries, on its book shelves, and in its storage rooms, we find the sacred artifacts of our sport (rods, reels, flies) and the stories (both published and written in personal journals) – all of which track the growth of technologies, shifts in rod building, and advances in fly tying. Throughout all of that, however, we also find details of the evolution of our varied ethics and relations to nature, streams, and the fish we pursue with religious passion.”

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  • With all due respect to Dr. Synder, has he ever actually been to the museum? Because when I visited, I didn’t see any “sacred artifacts of our sport.” I saw a small set of displays akin to those you’d find in any national military park’s visitor center. Behind those displays, yes, there were rods, reels, and flies, but many of these simply belonged to bygone celebrities. As I recall, Babe Ruth’s fly rod is there, prominently displayed; I’m a huge baseball fan and all that, but how many of you even knew the Bronx Bomber was a fly fisherman? Was he any good? Did he make a contribution to the sport? Or is he featured simply because he was really famous?
    More tellingly, the museum has an enormous closet right beside their offices that is just chock full of (presumably) meaningful old rods and reels that are not on display. These were donated by chapters, families, and estates, many of them in honor of people who made a real contribution to stream conservation in their home waters. When I asked whether this room full of old Paynes, Garrisons, Vom Hofe reels, etc., was awaiting preservation or something, I was simply told that there wasn’t room in the displays. Because, you know, we’ve got the rod Elvis Presley got as a birthday present and never even fished, and all.
    My point is, let’s not get too misty-eyed about the ‘hallowed halls’ of the Fly Fishing Museum. The Babe aside, it ain’t Cooperstown. It has a long history of featuring people just because they are famous, whether or not they had much to do with fly fishing. It also isn’t a church (“religious passion?” give me a break). It’s simply a nice little place to visit, not overly symbolic or meaningful and not likely to rock your world even if you manage to get there. Let’s keep some perspective.

  • very good point, zach. talk about painting lipstick on a pig! lol
    their literature archives r more significant than their “artifacts,” but the museum is largely irrelevant to all but a few east coast bluebloods…like the bush family and their cronies.

  • Sam Snyder

    Zach – I must ask if you read the whole article, or simply what MidCurrent posted. If not, I kindly request you read it in its entirety on Moldy Chum, since MidCurrent only quoted a portion of it. Ken – I noticed you replied quite positively to the piece on Moldy Chum.
    I have spent a quite a bit of time in the library. I am both a historian of fly fishing and a scholar of American environmental history. Much of my work has been to trace the relations between fly fishing culture and environmental conservation as it has moved from a very utilitarian form of conservation (fish stocking) to forms of native species protection and ecological restoration. I recently completed my dissertation on this subject; I hope to have a book out in the next year or two following my fellowship at the National Sporting Library.
    As I say in the article, I am respectful and grateful to the museum because I have been able to do research there. So yes, I have been there. Yes, the artifacts change and shift, many are in storage and not always present. But beyond what is on display, the museum does indeed represent something special to the culture of fly fishing, which is why the response has been so loud from some corners. I am not the only one screaming vocally about this issue. Did you read Ted Williams response?
    As for the religious language. While you might think I am overstepping my bounds here, I am making those claims after having devoted considerable time to understanding the history of our sport. Our fly fishing ancestors, as much as anglers today, see fly fishing in very religious terms. Read Haig-Brown, Lyons, Middleton, David James Duncan, Maclean, Halford, Hemingway, the list goes on going back to Seccombe, Walton, the mythical Berners, and beyond. Ken is right, the literature there at the museum is indeed highly noteworthy. I would add that that literature is shot through with notions of the religious (or spiritual) if you will.
    I don’t think it is a stretch to use the terms of religion in this context, in my opinion. You might think that religion belongs in a church, but there are many anglers out there who find more peace, healing, and God on rivers than they might in a church. Moreover, and more importantly, I have found in history and through interviews of anglers around the country, many trace their conservation concerns to religiously conceived experiences and values of fly fishing, of rivers, and of fish.
    Most importantly, however, the crux of the article is not the terms of religion, but the separation of fly fishing from conservation as the Museum claimed they were not in the business of conservation.
    We might disagree on the terms of religion, but my argument is not about religion, but the fact that you cannot separate the history of fly fishing from the conservation of our rivers as the Museum suddenly, so neatly, wants to do in this context.
    Thank you for the well thought out comments.
    Best wishes and respectful regards
    Sam Snyder

  • sam,
    i agreed w/zach only regarding his opinion that the museum’s “artifacts” work is not what i would call a significant contribution to american fly fishing…which is specifically what their cheney decision and the defense thereof centered upon. as i said in my post here, i think their archival work is far more significant to us all.
    if i didn’t make that clear it was because i was somewhat “spent” after that lengthy post on moldy chum. lol

  • Sam Snyder

    One follow-up point:
    If you are interested in the whereabouts of my “research,” I just finished my dissertation this past fall. So, I am a new Dr.
    I hope to have a book out on the history of fly fishing and environmental conservation/restoration in the next year or two, particularly after my time as a fellow at the National Sporting Library.
    In the meantime, I have published in American Fly Fisher, with another article on Rio Grande Cutthroat Restoration coming out this summer.
    Speaking of the NSL – I would like to note an all day symposium Nov 21 on the history of fly fishing and river conservation. It will include James Prosek, Hoagie Carmichael, Byron Borgelt, and John Ross, and myself.
    best wishes

  • Glad to see this discussion taking place, and appreciate your response here, Sam.
    I’ll propose to anyone reading this brief snippet on MidCurrent to dig into Sam’s full piece on Moldy Chum, you won’t be sorry that you did and you’ll be able to more fully appreciate the scope of what he’s saying, and saying respectfully.
    As someone who makes his living in conservation education, I can echo Maclean in saying that “there is no clear line between religion and fly fishing,” as my personal experience attests.
    Teeg Stouffer

  • Wayne Hadley

    In keeping with the gentlemanly comments thus far and wishing to further the scholarly, near metaphysical character of the Moldy Chum piece, Cheney sucks.

  • Jay Melzer

    Please, let’s not get confused. The museum is wonderful example of the love for the sport that many people have devoted their time and money to promote and preserve.
    Cheney is a revisionist war criminal. With any luck charges will be filed prior to the fund raising dinner and the museum can excuse Dick from attending without some members losing face.

  • Scott Zieske

    Sorry, but as a 30-year member of the AMFF, TU and FFF, most, if not all, of the criticisms I’ve seen regarding former Vice-President Cheney’s appearance at the AMFF are politically motivated. Pure and simple.
    You read right. Even Dr. Snyder’s comments are indeed suspect as witnessed by his snide remarks on the Vice-President’s fishing skills or lack thereof. And the ridiculous pose with shotgun on Moldy Chum is equally offensive. You’re either respectful of folks you don’t agree with philosophically, or you’re not.
    As a resident of a state next door to Wyoming, I can tell you the continued demonization and bashing of Dick Cheney, as subscribed to and encouraged by the east coast media, simply won’t wash out here in “fly over” country. So don’t try to force feed it to us.
    Fact is, you don’t grow up as a serious fisherman and hunter in our part of the world without being a genuine conservationist as well. And that goes for Dick Cheney too.
    So my compliments to the AMFF Board for inviting Mr. Cheney to speak. Good choice and you won’t be disappointed.

  • tight line fisher

    Scott’s comments are dead on about the politics and east coast Liberal Left bashing of one of the super sportsman, statesmen and gentlemen, Mr. Dick Cheney. We out in the frontier West realize what is important in one’s character and life experiences! Fly fishing is the ultimate experience in the living a full-filling life. To bad many of the disenters of Mr. Cheney’s have never lived in the wild frontier and where the buffalo roam. I applaud and respect the AMFF Board’s choice and hope and pray that you all reap the fullness of Cheney’s attendance. My dream is that I’d live near enough to attend the AMFF event. Many blessings to all and tight lines and heavy nets.

  • J. A. Kissane

    As one of the hundreds who wrote expressing my concern for the politicization of this event that has resulted, and the utter hipocricy of inviting Dick Cheney as an honored guest to speak at the function in question, I add my voice to that of Dr. Snyder’s.
    Dick Cheney is one of the most polarizing political figures of our time, regardless of how you feel about his politics. Separating concervation from fly fishing is worse than playing baseball at night, indoors in winter on artificial turf. Conservation of the very resource that makes the sport possible is an essential part of the whole picture. Dick Cheney has been a vocal proponent of policies that have knowingly done more damage to habitat than any Administration in my memory – there have been some that did worse – but largely out of ignorance.
    To defend Cheney as an avid outdoorsman, ignores his relative neophyte status – confirmed by his admission that he started bird shooting in the 90s. Being from Wyoming does not qualify him as an outdoorsman, and the state of Wyoming, while it is the location of some of the most beautiful examples of natural environments, is FAR from a bastion of conservation. Wyoming’s history is full of examples of exploitation of natural resorces without regard to environmental impact – going back to the near extinction of the bison, and continuing up to the present debates over drilling in designated Wilderness areas.
    Having appeared more in the media in the last several weeks than he did in the second term of the administration which he was such a strong part of, Cheney has continued to be a controversial and polarizing figure, whether through his commentary on issues of torture, revision of his position on the involvement of Iraq in the actions of alQaeda, or his reversal to a position where he now endorses gay marriage.
    He is not a suitable figure to be addressing the American Museum of Fly Fishing – there are 100 better-qualified speakers that I could come up with.
    J. Kissane

  • Marshall Cutchin

    Thanks for all the comments on this story. I’d just like to remind everyone that MidCurrent’s primary purpose is to help people become better fly fishers, and that we really prefer that folks stay away from bashing other commenters’ choices of where to live, casting preferences, food tastes, hairstyles, etc. Public officials and personalities are fair game, because, well, they are public. But please confine your opinions to them and even then, civility helps. MidCurrent has the largest audience of fly fishers in the world, and we serve people of every conceivable perspective.